Thursday, December 17, 2015

Super quick visual tour of the last 9 months: part 2

This post is part two; here's part one. Again, as I didn't have a camera, these images are all from other sources, but represent what I experienced.

I believe the super fast visual tour left off with Seaver and me leaving Lima for La Merced towards Satipo, Peru in early June. Here's a map reminder:
The pin marks Satipo, Peru.
Backing up a bit: Our friend Jess left us to return to Canada in late May as Seaver and I returned to Lima..

A quick comment on Lima: I found it an ugly, trashy, polluted, brown, dangerous, unaesthetic, impoverished, loud, inhuman place. I'd only visit a friend there or use its airport.I met many kind people, and I hope they can escape soon.

Lima as I remember it: brown on the bottom, grey (foggy/cloudy) on top. A few richer areas managed a nicer facade.
Late May / Early June: While stuck dealing with health and bureaucracy troubles in Lima, Seaver and I decided to have fun trying to hustle some money up. So we get the ingredients to make a bunch of caramel sweets which we then walk around Lima selling for a Sol each (about $0.30). We end up meeting some fun people, including 1-2 who even donated a sol without taking a sweet. The cost of the ingredients compared to the total profit and time involved really highlighted the thin profit margin a lot of the street vendors and others live on. Time is not highly valued here.

Early June, La Merced: We get to La Merced which turns out to be as unattractive as every other town in Peru. They get more tolerable as they get smaller though. It didn't help that our hostel room window overlooked a big prison compound; I've learned enough about prisons and faux justice; I didn't need the constant reminder of all the human suffering right there. If you think prisons have anything to do with justice, or are anything other than misery factories and profit centers, this is a decent article to read with good research. I doubt Peru's prisons are any better than the US's.

On the bright side, beautiful mountains with trails and streams surround La Merced, giving it a lovely 'hugged by mountains' feel. Seaver and I enjoyed our first forest hike in a long time, eventually finding a lovely waterfall, which I stood under nude. No picture of that, sorry :( Here's a picture of the river near La Merced:

Perene river near La Merced, Peru

Early June, Satipo: La Merced felt unpleasant even considering moving away from the prison, and we hoped to find a much smaller town in Satipo and perhaps meet natives there. Off we went!

It was funny, we looked at little street map of Satipo that claimed to be up to date; it showed about 5-6 roads and dirt paths going out the side. That must have been 30 years old.

Satipo was several dozen square blocks that looked like this. Way cleaner / less trashy than many other towns though.

Satipo was the first place we visited where we noticed a lot of stares. Tourists like us seemed pretty rare. We got more stares later in Atalaya, but the first impression here wasn't too welcoming. Still, we find a great hostel with outdoors space and grass and trees, and the owner sets up a little stove kitchen when we ask. I'll get to know him and the staff much better later.

After a lot of consideration and discussion, Seaver decides now to head back to the US in time for the Firefly wilderness skills festival. He buys his airline ticket and we decide to enjoy the next 2 weeks together without looking for indigenous particularly, knowing Seaver wouldn't join me there anyway.

Mid-June Satipo, Atalaya, Iquitos

So we spend an evening playing the cooperative video game Age of Empires III for the equivalent of $2 each. Then off to Atalaya, which can be reached by a very bumpy dirt road by pickup. I later learned 75% of the ride can be done by boat for cheaper. For now, we choose the back of the pickup which cost half the fare for riding in the cab.

8 hours in the back of a pickup. Not any more comfortable than it looks, but great views!
We arrive in Atalaya to receive even more stares from locals than in Satipo, and lots of heavily armed military folk on the main corners. Time to move along. We head north on the river for a day, where we board a cargo ship.

Then we take a 3 day 'cruise' in a cargo barge, one of the 'Henry' line of ships. Now, I didn't expect a busy boat, perhaps with a few other travelers snuggled up against big boxes, our fare free money for the operator.

A "Henry" cargo ship from the back.

Two "Henry" cargo ships with their characteristic colors. The ship I took was like the left one.

One whole deck was reserved for human carg-, I mean, people. Luckily Seaver and I boarded early and got good spaces.

Another view of the hammocks aboard the Henry ship.
They really packed in the people. They also fed us alright, and we met some interesting folks. This trip took us along the Ucayali river which eventually became the Amazon River by our last day.

Iquitos... I feel silly and whiny saying this again, but what a sad, dirty place. The largest city in the world with no road access, it's got >300K people packed into a tight tight space, and is mostly supported by ugly, violent and dirty resource extraction. I've never seen markets packed with stalls in such tiny spaces, and it was the dirtiest market I saw in S. America.

Iquitos near main "Belen" market.

No exaggeration here; this is what it looks like after the market closes or is shut for a day, and the rain just makes it nastier.
Not all of Iquitos was this bad; the rest of the town was mostly like the rest of civilized Peru. Two signs of poverty that Iquitos was in rough shape: 1) Often in a crowded market in other Peruvian towns, a main store would exist in a concrete building and then a stall with a tarp ceiling would jut out onto a sidewalk in front of it. I literally saw stalls in this market 4 deep, spilling onto the middle of the small road. 2) With the desperate search for a living, hustling got really difficult. It was common to see the concrete-store food vendors sell bags of crackers by the 10 pounds, then see a street vendor sell a hand-wrapped bag of 10 crackers, then see another vendor even poorer sell the crackers individually for a few cents. Food was also quite cheap but heavy on the white rice at the low-priced end.

Late June, Lima, again: Seaver and I enjoy a pizza and beer on our last night traveling together, taking it back to our hostel on the roof. The next morning we wish each other well and part ways for the time being.

No more pictures or rants about Lima.

Late June, La Paz, Bolivia: I go to Bolivia just to return to Peru and get a new 3 month visa. I had trouble in Bolivia, losing access to my debit card until my bank could send a replacement, and totally lucked out. I'll be forever grateful; I was in a frustrated mood at an internet cafe dealing with computer troubles and bank troubles, and a man and womanoverheard me and stepped outside. Unknown to me,  this married couple discussed how well America had treated them during their stay and how they wanted to repay it, and decided helping me would be a good Christian thing to do. The woman called her mother for another opinion. Eventually they invited me to sleep in their home that night and set me up with some cash for the week, as I didn't have enough for a hostel for the time it would take the bank to send the card. I'd planned to offer to work-trade at a hostel while I waited, but what a relief to not have to worry about that.

Seriously, the family invited a stranger into their home, then gave him (me) cash and accepted my promise to return with repayment once my card arrived. They invited me back for dinner anytime, and I dropped by half a week later with a surprise meal I'd made, and then again once I had the money to repay them. The woman had a look of relief and gratitude when I gave her the money; I could tell it was important to her to help me, but she'd felt stress over giving a stranger cash like she did. I was glad to make friends with the family, not least for the stress and hassle they saved me.

At this point, I desired a rest from all the constant pushing and learning and meeting people, and I decided to seek out a place to do an extended fast.

I'll end part two here; visual tour part 3 will be ready soon!